Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Warcraft (dir by Duncan Jones)


Last night, my cousin and I watched Warcraft, which is a film that has been called “the worst of 2016” by several critics.

Personally, I don’t think it’s the worst film of 2016.  It didn’t make me physically ill, like Hardcore Henry did.  My cousin — who, unlike me, has actually played all of the Warcraft games and therefore came into the film already knowing who and what everything was — says that he enjoyed it.  On the basis of both Moon and The Source Code, I think Duncan Jones is a genius who will eventually emerge as one of the most important directors working right now.  Dominic Cooper is in Warcraft and so is Ben Foster.  They’re both fairly unrecognizable (thought not as unrecognizable as Clancy Brown!) but they’re also two excellent actors and I’m always happy to see them listed in the credits.  Visually, the film was well-designed though it was impossible for me not to think about the Make Love, Not Warcraft episode of South Park.

But I have to say that no film has ever left as totally confused as Warcraft.  I got that the film was about a war between Orcs and humans.  And I appreciated the fact that the film attempted to give all of the Orcs their own individual personalities and culture.   If I wanted to, I could probably spend a few 100 words talking about how the war in Warcraft can serve as a metaphor for every war currently being fought in the real world.

But seriously, I spent nearly the entire film trying to keep straight who was who.  The cast was huge and the dialogue was full of people and creatures talking about magic and honor and history and tradition and sacrifice and why so-and-so had to do this to such-and-such because of something that happened to someone else centuries ago and it made my head hurt trying to keep up with it all.  I eventually gave up.  My cousin was enjoying the film and, in the end, that’s all that mattered.

Plus, there was a cute little orc baby!  I liked him and his story reminded me of the story of Moses floating away in that basket.

Anyway, Warcraft was slaughtered by critics and, because it cost a ton of money to make, it didn’t make any money back.  So, the film probably won’t get the sequel that the ending was obviously designed to set up.  However, I get the feeling that, next year, Warcraft will be a popular film to live tweet whenever it shows up on SyFy.

It may have been the most incoherent film of 2016 but it wasn’t necessarily the worst.

Warcraft Official Trailer (For The Film…Not The Game…I Know, Right!)


Warcraft

Warcraft was a game on the PC that I played for hours on end. It was the closest thing gamers had to a video game version of the Warhammer Fantasy property. the title had two popular sequels and gave birth to the biggest, most popular and most addictive MMORPG in history. I mean, World of Warcraft, led to couples getting divorces, players getting into real fights outside the game and even getting together in holy matrimony for reals.

So, Hollywood seeing a cash cow when it sees one had been trying to get a live-action film based on the Warcraft property for years. So many different directors had been attached to make it (from Uwe Boll right up to Sam Raimi) but in the end Duncan Jones got the job to bring Azeroth (and Draenor) to life on the big-screen.

With the film still months away, Universal and Legendary Pictures look to start the hype train going by releasing the first official trailer for Warcraft with much fanfare.

The Preacher Is About To Begin Mass


Preacher

Preacher the comic book that came out in 1995 and became the title that everyone gravitated to to balance out all the superhero titles that were coming out from Marvel, DC, Image and every small publisher in-between. The book was written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon. It was the book that took on the institutions of the Church, government and family in the most irreverent and blasphemous way one could think of at the time.

The book had been talked of within Hollywood since it’s release as one title that producers (seems all of them at one time or another) wanted to adapt for the big-screen. It wasn’t a superhero title so there was no need to worry about trying to adapt tights-wearing heroes and villains. Yet, the book’s subject matter which tended to go into the extreme at times became something that kept the title from being adapted.

After almost two decades of futile attempts to get Preacher up onto the big-screen it took the star-power of one big-screen star (Seth Rogen) to finally get the book adapted, but not on the big-screen, but on the small-screen to become part of AMC’s stable of unique series titles (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Into the Badlands).

So, fans of the books only have until 2016 to wait for their dreams of Preacher finally coming to live-action life and non-readers will finally see what all the hype has been all about.

Horror Film Review: Dracula Untold (dir by Gary Shore)


Dracula_Untold_poster

Last night, I finally got a chance to see Dracula Untold, the new film that claims to show us not only who the world’s most famous vampire used to be but also how he became a vampire in the first place.  And I have to admit that I had strong hopes for Dracula Untold.  I certainly did not think that it would be a great film but I was hoping that it would at least be fun.

And can you blame me?

After all, it is October and what better time of the year is there to see a film about the early days of a horror icon?  Add to that, the film’s commercials all hinted that, at the very least, Dracula Untold would be full of over-the-top action, melodramatic performances, and ornate costumes.  Sure, there was no hint to be found that Dracula Untold would actually turn out to be a good movie but how can you go wrong with the promise of a little baroque spectacle?

As well, who doesn’t love vampires?  Who hasn’t, at some point, been intrigued by the mix of romance and morbid dread that epitomizes the vampire legend?  And, of course, long before there was ever an Edward Cullen or a Lestat, there was Dracula.

So, yes, I had high expectation for Dracula Untold but I don’t think they were unrealistic.  Ultimately, I was just hoping to see a fun and entertaining vampire film.

And, in all fairness, there were a few moments when Dracula Untold managed to be just that. Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between.  For the most part, this latest Dracula film turned out to be rather bland and predictable, a well-produced film that failed to leave much of an impression.  It was neither good enough to be memorable nor bad enough to be enjoyable.  Instead, it just kind of was.

Dracula Untold opens in the Middle Ages, with the man that we know as Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) ruling Transylvania.  Despite his fearsome reputation, we quickly see that Vlad is actually a very wise and benevolent king who truly loves his wife (Sarah Gadon) and his young son (Art Parkinson).  However, when the new sultan of Turkey (played by Dominic Cooper) demands that Transylvania send him 100 young men to serve as slaves (much as Vlad himself was forced to do when he was younger), Vlad goes to war against the Ottomon Empire.

With his forces outnumbered, Vlad does what any self-respecting ruler would do.  He goes to a cave and he talks to the Master Vampire (Charles Dance, under a ton of makeup).  The Master Vampire agrees to give Vlad all the powers of a vampire but there’s a condition.  In order to become human again, Vlad must go for three whole days without drinking any blood.  If Vlad does drink blood, he will be cursed to be a vampire for the rest of his life.

Vlad takes the deal, fully intending not to drink any blood.  As a result, Vlad can do all sorts of neat CGI tricks, like turning into a bat and fighting his enemies in slow motion.  However, he can’t go out in the sun without his skin starting to burn and silver causes his eyesight to go all blurry.  And, of course, he starts to crave blood almost immediately.  As Vlad tries to defeat the Turks before losing his special powers, he also discovers that his own soldiers now fear him and his dark powers…

I don’t want to be too hard on Dracula Untold because, while my overall reaction was one of disappointment, there are still bits and pieces of the film that works.  Charles Dance, for instance, gives a great performance as the Master Vampire.  Dominic Cooper camps it up as the film’s nominal villain and, as a result, he’s a lot of fun to watch.  Luke Evans is pretty to look at.  The final showdown between Evans and Cooper is well-directed.

But, ultimately, the things that worked in Dracula Untold were the exception to the rule.  For the most part, Dracula Untold is uninspiring and forgettable.  Clocking in at 92 minutes, Dracula Untold is almost too short and quick for its own good.  You never really find yourself becoming immersed in the film’s world and the majority of the film’s supporting characters were so thinly drawn that I struggled to keep straight who was who.  (I swear, at first, it seemed as if one of Dracula’s friends was actually killed three separate times.  It was only afterward, as I looked over the film’s credits, that I discovered that “friend” was actually three different characters who were so indistinguishable from each other that I had just naturally assumed that they were all meant to be the same guy.)  There are occasionally hints of an intriguing political and sexual subtext, particularly in the scenes between Evans and Cooper, but the film is always in such a hurry to get to the next battle scene that those hints are often pushed to the side within minutes of having been brought up.  It becomes obvious early on that Dracula Untold was mostly made to serve as the cornerstone of a new franchise and, as such, the film ultimately feels like a 90-minute prologue to a story that you’re not really sure will be worth all the build-up.

It’s not so much that Dracula Untold was a terrible film as much as it was just a painfully generic and predictable one.  And a character as iconic as Dracula deserves better.

Back to School #71: An Education (dir by Lone Scherifg)


MV5BMTg4NjgzOTc0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTc2OTE3Mg@@__V1_SX214_AL_

When I first started this series of Back To School reviews, my plans was to somehow write and post 80 reviews over the course of just one week.  What was I thinking?  That one week has now become one month.  However, even if it has taken me longer than I originally planned, I’ve enjoyed writing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.

We’ve been looking at these films in chronological order.  We started with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, 70 reviews later, we have reached the wonderful year of 2009.  It seems somewhat appropriate, to me, that as we finally start to reach the end of this series (after this review, only 9 more to go!), we should take a look at one of my favorite films of all time, a film that was nominated for best picture and which introduced the world to one of the best actresses working today.

That film, of course, is An Education.

Set in 1961, An Education tells the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an intelligent and headstrong 16 year-old girl.  Jenny lives in London with her father (Alfred Molina) and mother (Cara Seymour), both of whom have decided that Jenny will eventually attend Oxford University.  She attends public school, where she’s a star pupil and a favorite of her teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and the stern headmistress (Emma Thompson).  Jenny is someone who, even at the age of 16, seems to have her entire life mapped out for her.

And then she meets David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard).  David is a handsome and charming older man who, spying Jenny walking in the rain, offers to give her a ride home.  Soon, Jenny and David are secretly pursuing a romantic relationship.  At first glance, David seems to be the perfect dream boyfriend.  He’s sophisticated.  He’s witty.  He knows about art and music and seems to be the exact opposite of Jenny’s boring, conservative father.  And David also has two beautiful friends, Danny (a devastatingly charming Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s glamorous girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Jenny is drawn into David’s exciting circle of friends and, at first, it’s all so intoxicating that the little things don’t matter.  Jenny doesn’t ask, for instance, how David and Danny make their money.  When she finds out that David specifically moves black families into white neighborhoods in order to get people to move so that he can then buy and rent out their former homes, Jenny knows that it’s shady but she pretends not to be worried.  And when David and Danny steal a valuable antique map out of a country home, it’s far too exciting for Jenny to worry about the legality of it all…

26484527_

An Education is such a great film, I don’t even know where to begin in singing its praises.  The cast is absolutely brilliant, with Carey Mulligan proving herself to be a star and Peter Sarsgaard being so charismatic that, much like Jenny, you can’t help but get swept up in his world.  This was the first film that I ever noticed Dominic Cooper in and I walked out of the theater with a crush that I continue to have to this day.  The script, by novelist Nick Hornby, is full of witty lines and, even more importantly, it manages to find something very universal within Jenny’s very personal story.  We’ve all had a David Goldman in our life at some point.

However, what I think I really love about An Education is the way that it portrays the excitement of being just a little bit naughty.  One need only compare the vivid scenes in which David and Jenny dance at a club with the drab scenes of Jenny sitting in class to understand why Jenny (and so many other girls) would fall for a guy like David.

Perhaps my favorite image in the entire film is one in which, after having a fight out in the middle of the street, David and Jenny turn around to see Danny and Helen standing out on a beautiful balcony and waving down to them.  The two couples are just so beautiful and so glamorous that it really does become one of those moments where you really do wish you could just step into the movie and spend a few hours just hanging out with them.

An Education is one of the best!

6383165_orig

The Beautiful People (from L-R): Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Peter Sarsgaard, and Carey Mulligan.

Quick Review: Need for Speed (dir. by Scott Waugh)


Need_For_Speed_New_Oficial_Poster_JPostersMy Short Take on Need for Speed –

Reasons to see it:

+ Fast cars doing interesting stunts that don’t feel like a CGI stunt reel. Take the Mustang chase from Drive and stretch it out.

+ It’s a tightly shot film. The chances of saying “Come on, go somewhere.” Are small and the driving camera work does its best to invoke a sense of being in the scene.

+ Imogen Poots steals practically every scene she’s in, and the cast overall seemed to enjoy themselves. Michael Keaton may be the most animated he’s been since Beetlejuice. Aaron Paul sounds like a mix between Charlie Hunnam and Solid Snake.

Reasons to hold off for now:

– It’s not the tightest story in the world. You’ll probably be able to easily call out plot angles as the movie progresses. There is also one scene in the film that never connects to anything after it, leaving something of a hole there. Overall, the film gives you just enough to understand why everyone’s doing what they’re doing, but don’t search for a whole lot of character growth here.

– The Air support moments seem a little implausible, given air traffic rules and what not.

The Long Take: 

Ever since The Fast and The Furious hit the big screen in 2001, you’ve had a number of race related movies. I think the worst I can recall was 2007’s Redline, which tried to throw some wild extortion theme into the mix. The movie adaptation for Need for Speed may actually be a better movie than some of Electronic Arts’ games. It may not be Hamlet, but it handles itself just fine.

The premise for Need for Speed is very simple. A young racer (Aaron Paul, whose voice sounds he’s channelling Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller) seeks vengeance against a former business partner (Dominic Cooper, Howard Stark from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) by way of a dangerous high speed race known as the Deleon. He assembles a team of friends, and goes about trying to reach his goal. There you go, all you need. It might sound as bad as this year’s Robocop, but at least the audience laughed along with this one.

Although many know Aaron Paul from his Emmy winning run on Breaking Bad, but he isn’t new to movies. He’s had a great turn in Smashed with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and worked previously with co-star Imogen Poots on The Long Way Down. Here in Need for Speed, I felt he did really well with what was given as racer Tobey Marshall, granted that it wasn’t a whole lot. Still, he sells it as best he can. Poots, on the other hand is as much the bright light in the film as Hayley Atwell was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Overall, the casting was okay here. Dominic Cooper plays the rival role well, though doesn’t come off as sinister in any way and Michael Keaton seems to enjoy himself in this as the host of the Deleon, a high stakes private race. He channels his inner Beetlejuice and is one of the high points of the film. Between he and Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi to those who know him musically), they have the best scenes apart from the main cast.

The car scenes themselves are okay. You may find yourself leaning back in your seat in some instances, but they don’t quite have the tight feel of say Ronin. Still, you won’t see anything happen in these cars that go beyond the extreme. Truth be told, it’s almost similar to the first Fast and the Furious, save for all the wavy speed lines in the high speed chases. One of the remarkable things about Need for Speed is that it tries its best to avoid throwing too many CGI driving moments. It has a feel that’s similar to Tarantino’s Death Proof or, as the film highlights in the beginning of the movie, Bullitt. This being only his second major film (Act of Valor being the first), Director Scott Waugh gets away with making the racing moments as intense as they can be without getting too crazy…well, almost. It’s cut quick, and there are very few lag scenes as far as I could notice.

If the movie has any bad points, it’s that almost everything happens in a bubble. The plot has someone who is effectively on the run, and yet I would have imagined there’d be more of a police presence, especially given the exposure. Then again, this is Need for Speed, where you only need to avoid the cops or 2 minutes before being given the chance to hide in a cooldown zone (in NFS: Most Wanted, anyway). Fans of the games will see some of those elements in play during the film and they are functional here, if not realistic.

Additionally, there’s one other scene that involves the recruiting of a reluctant team member that goes almost no where. The reason for bringing the person along (having to do with a car issue) never appears to be addressed either visually or verbally. This left me asking, “Well, was it fixed?” and then shaking my head later on. It’s not a terrible mistake to have while munching on popcorn ( you won’t choke for not getting an answer), but someone really could have taken the time to dot that particular “i” on George Gatins’ script.

Overall, Need for Speed is a fun ride. It’s predictable in a lot of ways, and you’ll see some of it coming, but you may also find yourself smiling and swerving in your seats with the traffic.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 Minute Extended Clip & Trailer)


d001

It’s just less than a month away from one of 2014’s most-anticipated films. It’s the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel Studios has been kind enough to treat it’s fans to a 4-minute clip/trailer of the film.

This clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes early in the film and helps in setting the tone of the film. This is not the gung-ho and patriotic first film. This follow-up shows the after-effects of the events from The Avengers and how it’s created a sense of paranoia and conspiracy surrounding the very group Captain America has now become a part of.

Where the first film had the nostalgic feel similar to Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer, this sequel looks to tap the 70’s conspiracy and 80’s technothriller genres. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Russo Brothers succeeded, but just going by this extended scene and the previous teasers and trailers they may have just done that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives in North America on April 4, 2014.